Squarings xli


(DOD 325) Shortly after I came home. I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard.

Heaney also offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); the poem will replace Heaney’s ‘tent-rope’ with trailing willow branches that cpmplete an electric circuit.

HV (p.146), with reference to Squarings xli:  In Seeing Things almost every hieroglyph inscribes within itself its own annihilation: ‘The places I go back to have not failed / But will not last’; 

When Heaney was a youngster locals referred to  natural deposits (sand-bed ( ) gravel-bed) that graced his local river, the Moyulla.

So the youngster recognized a rich, resonant foreknowledge (ore of longing) of the river long before he he experienced it more intimately (river shallows … river pleasures).

In the context of Seeing Things  the river becomes a pictographic metaphor: a cherished place seen through fresh eyes (places I go back to) just as it was in one respect (not failed) – simply redefined within his own intensified awareness that nothing is forever (will not last).

Whether in pursuit of poetic charge, or craving sensual access (Waist-deep in cow-parsley) wading in is the very first stage (re-enter the swim)  – submersion awakens the poetic challenge of  sometimes cresting the water (riding) sometimes holding back (quelling) the swirl of currents memory is composed of and selectiing from everything accumulated ever. 

To resolve creative potential size up the composition, taking squarings from the tops of bridges, probe the inner feelings from the banks of self at evening.

Lurking in his subconscious the whiff of annihilation (Lick of fear), the sense of fleeting pleasure (Sweet transience), of teasing  contact (flirt) and entry (splash).

Back to earth, Heaney celebrates the water’s texture (crumpled) and movement (flow) … and then spots the Moyulla’s link with the infinite: the willows’ weeping (trailed) branchescomplete an ‘electric’ circuit with the ‘airy structure’ above (sky-dipped willows).

  • bed: river floor of varying deposits;
  • ore: (geological) naturally occurring vein of valuable materials in the rocks; of longing: (emotional) yearning desire;
  • cow-parsley: delicate fern-like hedgerow plant;
  • (in the) swim: allusion both to water and awareness of the present moment
  • ride: bestride, handle;
  • quell: soothe, suppress;
  • accumulate: amass, hoard;
  • squarings: mental calculations that weigh things up;
  • banks of self: one’s persona viewed objectively;
  • transience: impermanence; transitoriness;
  • flirt: superficial contact;
  • crumpled flow: water surface creased with ridges and troughs;
  • sky-dipped: willows that weep down from aloft
  • trail: float, bathe;


  • The 48 poems of the ‘Squarings’ sequences follow an identical format (12 lines in 4 triplets}; Heaney suggests the format just happened that way: ‘given, strange and unexpected’ … ‘I didn’t quite know where it came from but I knew immediately it was there to stay’) DOD 321;
  • 4 triplets; variable line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 8-sentence structure: 1-2 short 1940s hearsay evaluations ; 3 emotional anticipation within the youngster; past to present – how ageing has altered personal perspectives; 4 poet reconciled to his own mortality 5extended metaphor;  return to short sentences following the youngster’s busy eye; a visual memory renewed; 5 -8 return to short statements – an interconnection confirmed between earthbound and infinite;
  • narrative flow: contrast between short top and tail clusters of sentence and space left for enjambed lines;
  • extended metaphor links lyrical atmosphere of river and poet’s relationship with his subject matter: ‘squarings from bridges … banks of self’; touches of elegy;
  • personification: the river has a memory;
  • euphemistic approach: ‘fear’ is not yet reached the savaging stage (a mere ‘lick’); mortality only lurks behind things still to be enjoyed ‘sweet transience’;
  • autobiographical ‘I’;
  • series of compound adjectives and nouns from ‘sand-bed’ to sky-dipped’;


  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to.
  • the music of the poem: twelve assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text:

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • for example, the first four lines are rich in front-of-mouth sounds [f] [l] [w][v] [r]; alongside alveolar plosive [d]; sibilants [s][z] [sh] and nasal [n];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;